10-29-2012, 09:59 PM
The offices of VERVE! magazine was ablaze with activity: copy editors typed up what information they had about the shooting, feature layouts were hastily arranged, phones rang incessantly from on-the-field reporters calling in with latest developments, and Jim Close demanding where the hell was Mendoza with those photos.
Mario burst into the office, waving the pictures over his head. "I got the photos, Jim!" he called out over the general din.
Jim grabbed the pictures and flipped through them. "Okay, we got pictures!" he announced, handing them to the layout crew. "Where's Hillary?" he demanded.
"Writing up the story," Mario replied.
Jim charged to Hillary's desk, arriving just in time for her to hand in her finished copy. "Here you go, Jim," she said, holding up her article. Jim took it and skimmed through the article, nodding his approval. He had always liked Hillary's no-nonsense approach to writing. That was why he usually assigned her the more serious assignments, like deaths, disasters and something like what they were going through right now. She cut out the fluff and got to the point. Jim handed the article to a passing copy editor for publishing. The phone rang on someone's desk.
"Jim!" someone called out. "They're holding a press conference at the Luxor about the shooting in an hour!"
"Desjarden! Mendoza!" Jim bellowed. "You two at the Luxor in thirty! Press conference!"
The news of the attempt on Criss Angel's life swept the country, then the world, like a shockwave from an explosion. Every media source, electronic and print, broadcast the event, showing the video coverage of the attack over and over again. CRISS ANGEL SHOOTING IN LAS VEGAS read the caption on CNN as scenes of outraged, grief-stricken fans wept and wailed before the cameras.
Crystal and Hayley sat on the bed of their motel room as they watched the scene they had witnessed first hand replayed over and over again, hammering home the awful truth of the tragedy. They could not stop crying no matter how hard they tried; half a box of discarded Kleenexes lay crumpled at their feet. They had wanted to remain with the Loyals, to keep vigil and to seek answers, but Courtney had heard about the shooting from the TV in the boutique where she had been shopping at the time and came to fetch them, insisting they return to the motel, that there was nothing they could do. She had dragged the two weeping girls into her car and had driven back to their room, where they now sat agonizing over what they had just witnessed.
Hayley pointed at the screen. "Hey, I think that's that girl we met," she said, "what's-her-name...Chloe."
Crystal looked closer. Yes, it was Chloe, with tears streaming down her frail face, holding up her photograph of herself and Criss in the hospital from three years ago when Chloe had open-heart surgery. They couldn't quite make out what she was saying, but it had something to do with Criss' visit to her and the fundraiser where he had performed. Crystal burst into fresh tears, burying her face in Hayley's shoulder. Hayley let her cry for a while, but jerked up suddenly, pointing at the screen again.
"That's him!" she cried. "That's the man who shot him!"
Crystal quickly raised her head. A shot of an old man in handcuffs being led to a waiting police cruiser flashed before their tear-filled eyes. Him? Crystal said to herself, bewildered. That old man was the shooter? He looks like somebody's grandfather.
GUNMAN IN CUSTODY ran the caption on the screen. The newscaster in clipped tones reported that the gunman had been identified as Hiram Block, a semi-retired day laborer with a record of disturbing the peace and being a public nuisance for his ultra-right-wing fundamentalist views. He had been formally charged with assault with a deadly weapon and attempted murder, and could face anywhere from ten to twenty years in prison--practically a life sentence for an sixty-five year old man.
"You are soooo dead, mister," Hayley sneered at the image on the screen. "You are sooo (bleeping) dead!"
GUNMAN IN CUSTODY Cole read on the giant plasma TV in the appliance store where customers and Loyals had gathered to hear the latest developments on the shooting. There was some cheering and applause from the Loyal side of the group. Someone behind him commented about the attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II back in the early Eighties, but it was just white noise as far as Cole was concerned. The (bleeper) who tried to kill the Master of Illusion had been caught and sent to jail--that was some comfort, at least. He caught the name "Hiram Block" from the broadcast, and that he was a right-wing fundamentalist.
Figures, Cole thought angrily. The religious right had been riding on Criss' ass over his magic and illusions for God knew how long. He himself had seen their websites, filled with lies and twisted logic about Criss Angel, accusing him of being in league with the Devil, even of being the Anti-Christ. Now they had gone too far. In the name of whatever they perceived God to be they had tried to kill Criss Angel. They had crossed the line, and Cole was going to make them pay. Criss Angel would be avenged!
In the quiet of the hospital waiting room, Costa, JD and George sat huddled together, praying for and worrying about Criss. They were no strangers to ERs; Criss had been brought here before when he injured his neck after his Prison Van Escape, when he nearly impaled his feet on those screwdrivers, and other occupational hazards connected with his show. He had always walked away more or less unscathed.
But today, oh, today! This was not an accident caused by mistiming or techincal glitches--this was a deliberate attempt on his life! Someone actually shot their brother and cousin out of pure malice. Who? And why?
"I promised Christopher I'd go to New York to see about Mom," Costa said, breaking the silence. "Now, I'm not so sure. Do I stay here, or go back home? I don't know who needs me more, Ma or Chris?" He looked up suddenly. "Did anyone call Mom about this?"
JD pulled out his phone and hit the number for his mother's house. "Call her right now," he muttered. "She's probably heard about it on the news by now." He waited for an answer from the other end.
"Hello, Ma?" A pause. He turned to his brother and cousin, grimacing. "Yeah, she heard about it." he told them, then he turned back to the phone. "We're in the waiting room right now. We should be hearing about him any minute, okay?" Pause. "Ma, don't cry, okay? Look, Costa's gonna come over to the house and deal with the break-in you had last night." Pause. JD nodded. "Yeah, we're gonna install a new security system for you, so this doesn't happen again, okay?" He handed the phone to Costa. "Mom wants to talk to you."
Costa took the phone and put it to his ear. "Hey, Ma, how's it going?" A long pause. Costa tried to speak, but was constantly interrupted. "Ma, calm down, okay? Christopher is gonna be fine. You want me to come home?" Pause. "Okay, I'll be home as soon as we know anything, okay?" He handed the phone back to JD. "She wants me to stay until we know for sure how he's doing?" he told him.
"Okay, Mom, we'll keep you posted, okay?" JD said quickly. He looked up to see a doctor approaching. "Hey, the doctor's here. Can I put you on hold for a second?" He pressed the Hold key and rose to greet the doctor. "How's Christopher?" he almost begged.
The doctor smiled. "Well, first of all, his wound was much shallower than we thought it would be, but he lost quite a bit of blood so he'll be here overnight. Then you can take him home in the morning, let him recover there."
It was as if a huge weight had rolled off their shoulders. "Can we see him?" JD asked.
"He's still in recovery," the doctor said. "But that is not the astonishing thing."
The three men looked at him in bewilderment. "The bullet wound punctured only a few millimeters into his skin. It would have been fatal if not for the fact that he had this in his jacket pocket." The doctor held up a small green New Testament with a charred hole through the middle of it. "It deflected the bullet when it struck him."
JD, Costa, and George stared at the book in the doctor's hand. "While it didn't completely stop the bullet," he continued, "it did prevent it from penetrating his heart. It just wedged itself into his chest by about an eighth of an inch, just enough to cause bleeding when his jacket was removed, pulling it out."
JD recalled Criss' scream of agony when he pulled off his jacket in an attempt to find the wound, realizing he had ripped the bullet from his chest in the process, making it worse. I should have left it on and let the surgeons take it out, he cursed himself. I made things worse by taking off his jacket like that.
"Hey," George spoke up. "Can we take this with us?"
"Well, the forensics experts are pretty much done with it, so I don't see why not?" The doctor checked his watch. "Your brother should be out of recovery by now," he said. "You can go see him if you wish."
They wished. They followed the doctor down a maze of corridors to Criss' room. On the way, JD's phone beeped, reminding him that his mother was still on hold. Cursing himself for his forgetfullness, he reactivated his phone.
"Hi, Mom. Sorry I kept you waiting like that," he said as he strode down the corridor. "Yeah, good news. He isn't that badly hurt, he's gonna be okay. It's kinda a funny story about it, but he'll be out of the hospital tomorrow." Pause. "We're here. You wanna talk to him?"
The three men entered the sterile confines of the hospital room where Criss lay, an IV drip connected to his arm. "Hey, guys," he said, brightening. "How's it going?"
"The doctor told us what happened," JD said. He held up his phone. "Mom's on the phone. She wants to talk to you."
Criss took the phone from JD. "Hey, Mom, how's it going?" Pause. "Mom, don't cry, okay? I'm gonna be fine. It's you I'm worried about, with that guy breaking into the house and all that."
Criss sighed as his mother berated him over his lack of priorities. "Mom, I'm gonna be okay. It wasn't even serious. Yeah, it could have been, but I had something in my pocket that caught it." Another pause. "No, you don't need to come to Vegas. You stay there, okay? Costa's gonna come there and help you deal with the break-in. I'll be fine. Okay, I love you, Mom. I love you more. 'Bye."
He flipped off the phone and returned it to JD. "She's pretty upset right now," he deadpanned.
"Oh, really?" Costa said sarcastically. "You think?"
George handed Criss the damaged New Testament. "Here's what saved you," he said. "You had it in the right place at the right time."
Criss looked at the book with the bullet hole through it in amazement. "I remember some guy passing them out on the street," he said, "and I did a little mentalist trick with it for the show. I guess I put it in my pocket and forgot about it."
"Lucky accident," JD said.
"Yeah," Criss said. "Really lucky."
"Well, somebody Up There got your back today," George said, pointing to the ceiling.
Criss nodded. "Yeah, I think Somebody did."